Copper Mountain - Banff National Park, AB October 1, 2015
I took this Thursday off because I had to work on the weekend. This worked out well actually, as it was a beautiful day on Thursday and on Saturday it snowed. It was disappointing I couldn't take Elena on the hike I'd promised her to on Saturday, but the weather would have prevented that anyway.
I'd wanted to do Copper Mountain for a while now, I'm not even really sure why. I guess it just looked like the kind of moderate scramble which I could do. After asking around on a forum if it was dry, I even found myself some company on this trip! Which was good, because it was at the level were I could just do it solo, but I would have been more uncomfortable through some sections then I was with Carlo around.
The first part involves going up Redearth Creek trail until you get to Lost Horse Campground. This part can be biked and we did, now that two bikes can totally fit in my Mazda CX-5. I walked my bike up nearly every hill, because somehow biking on a dirt trail first thing in the morning, with a pack on your back, is so much harder than going up hills in the city. Also I am afraid to use the big gear change on my bike to get to the really low gears for going up hills. My bike is very old. It is actually a bike my grandmother bought for herself when we young, so she could bike ride with us. The large gear change never worked for some time, but Elena's daughter did some work on my bike and it should work now. I should have tested it before, because I was too scared to on the trial. What if the gear chain just fell off, or I couldn't get it back to the normal gears? I didn't want to make Carlo wait while I attempted to repair my bike. So instead I made him wait while I walked uphill (much less waiting?). The flat to mostly flat sections were very fast on the bike though.
Eventually we got to the part of the trail that is very near the ascent gully. On the trail we saw some cairns on the right side that were not indicating any well formed side trail. I don't know if people were trying to mark the best place to get off the trail before you get to Lost Horse or not. But there were at least 3 cairns so it would be hard to tell which was best. As well, all the trip reports I've read say its not worth trying to shortcut from the trail, so we ignored them and continued on biking.
At one point on the trail around this section we got a good view of Copper Mountain at the top of a small hill, and you could see the whole ascent route. It basically involves taking a rising traverse through the end of the avalanche path by Lost Horse Campgrounds cooking area. Then through a bit of forest, another meadow, some thin trees, and more meadow, until you are finally in the correct ascent gully. You follow this up on grass and then scramble beside a large wall. Once the wall is gone, then ascent slopes are less steep, and it is easiest to keep a bit left until you are on the ridge. Then it is just a walk over to the summit.
The ascent route I've drawn on in blue here approximately.
The bike being left at the Lost Horse Creek cooking area.
After taking a raising traverse through the trees you get near here. You still have to side-hill while ascending quite a bit more until you are completely done. I hate side-hilling very much. This part made me wonder why I had picked this mountain.
The grass was quite steep, and sometimes there was light bushwhacking to get through trees or shrubs. There was also a ditch worn down, right after the longest section of trees, created by the flood to cross. But it was quite easy where we crossed it.
Looking back. We are gaining some elevation. The creek and trail are down there in the valley.
Finally almost done side-hilling. This is the start of the correct gully. We kept to the middle on grass.
Heading up the middle. It was very steep.
Up ahead from this point we kept too far left and had to scramble down a bit to get back into the gully. It was unnecessary but not too hard.
Once we were back on track it looked like this. While it might be tempting to some at this point and/or later to keep on the grass all the way up to the right, you cannot go that way as it cliffs out. The correct route continues up along the interesting rock wall to the left. Once you get into it the scrambling is quite fun. For a while though, it is safe to continue ascending the grass instead of the scree right beside the wall.
Still going up the grass.
The rock wall had interesting weathering formations.
Looking back down.
We are almost getting to were we must start scrambling and head back left. We actually left it quite late which isn't necessary, but it worked for us. We are about to go straight up the rock directly above in this photo for a bit, then traverse left back into the correct gully.
Starting to traverse back left.
In the correct gully. It looks steep and very rocky from far below. However it is actually (for the majority of it) not very steep at all. The rock is great and makes slanted steps that are grippy and fun to scramble up. There are also plenty of flat bits every now and then, just big enough to stand on and take a break for a minute.
Fun scrambling. I don't really have any pictures of the most challenging sections, but they were all only three to five moves before you were standing without using your hands again. Nothing hard at all.
Still heading up. We kept to the middle of this photo. There is lots of room in this gully though for different scrambling options. Which is nice.
Looking back down again.
Almost at the top of this section.
Then at the top of the gully, before the ridge itself the angle eases off. We kept a bit left where the angle was easiest and the snow cornice was also narrower.
Very easy now. Mostly walking again, no hands required.
This snow cornice basically ended to the left, so we kept left.
On the ridge looking over at Mount Ball and Shadow Lake below it.
Looking back down from the top of the ridge.
The summit ridge is very flat and wide here.
Looking back along it.
The summit is up ahead. A crow or raven was sitting on it when we first saw it.
Summit looking southeast. Mount Cory is to the far right across the valley, and Mount Ishbel is to the far left. Which I think is a good contender for one of the new scrambles in Kane's upcoming third edition.
Summit looking south at Pilot Mountain
Summit looking southwest. Mount Assinaboine is in the far distance on the left. For some reason the summit cairn was down where I am standing but it looks like the ridge is slightly higher over there were we came from.
Summit looking west at Mount Ball
Summit looking northwest at Storm Mountain, below which and slightly to the left is Gibbon Pass.
Summit looking north at Mount Temple in the distance just left of center. Mount Hector is over to the right across the valley.
Summit looking northeast at Castle Mountain
Summit looking east. Directly in the center is Johnston Canyon.
Summit of Copper Mountain
We decided to try out the alternative descent down the gully that leads straight to the campground. This would hopefully be faster and avoid side-hilling altogether. By following the south end of the ridge, rather than staying in the middle, we ended up here. This is looking over at the correct gully seen in this picture. We had to go back up and west along the ridge to get to it.
Going along the ridge to the gully.The ridge narrows here a bit. Then it looks like it might be easy to keep going all the way to Gibbon Pass. That would be a super long day though.
Start of the descent gully. It is very steep in just a few steps. The scree is nice, but the slabby bits under and around it, made the first several hundred meters of descent a bit nerve-wracking and slow for me.
Its hard to tell, but this isn't the easiest terrain.
This photo shows better how its quite slabby and very steep.
Finally down the slabby section, you can scree ski down quite nicely for a long time. There were some very good patches of scree and the rest was ok.
Still heading down.
Looking back up. The darker area is the steep slabby bit.
Then at the bottom its just low angle rubble you have to walk along.
Until the gully narrows and your on grass again. The cooking area of the campground is just at the end of the avalanche path below this gully on skiers right.
Looking back up at the descent gully. As Kane says, don't go up this. It is loose and would be super annoying on ascent.
The bike ride back was super fast except for one small hill at the beginning. It was fun too, if a bit bumpy. It certainly made sense to use the bikes as it probably saved us almost an hour.
All in all this was a good scramble. The scrambling section itself was great, it reminded us a little of Mount Whymper that we both enjoyed. The scree part that was just scree, was good. And the views were good. The side-hill raising traverse, and the first slabby bit of the gully, were annoying and/or a bit scary. I could have done without them. I wouldn't go back, but it was a good scramble.
This started me thinking on what the perfect scramble would be. For me it would be a very short hike (less than 5km) on a well graded but unpopular (no tourists!) trail to warm you up. It would take you to a nice alpine lake. Immediately beside it the mountain ascent would start. It would be fun solid grippy rock scrambling, up steps without exposure. Similar to Whymper or this. Maybe a bit steeper for some sections. Then the perfect scree descent on small consistent scree, that never got thin, no matter how many people went down it. It would be magically only about half the length of the ascent. Then at the lake again, you could take a break and relax. Going back on the trail, it would magically be only about half the distance you approached. Ta da! There would be no side-hilling, nasty rubble, or thin scree on slabs. Too bad this doesn't exist. Even without the magic half distance on descent.